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State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss cleared Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of any wrongdoing regarding the sale of his Jerusalem home, declaring Wednesday that the price Olmert had received for it and the monthly rent he began to pay to continue living there after it was sold fell into the area considered "reasonable."
Lindenstrauss decided to investigate the affair after critics charged that Olmert had received too much money for his house and was paying too little in rent and that the rates might have been part of a bribery transaction in which Olmert allegedly meant to repay the purchaser, US businessman and philanthropist Daniel Abraham, using his power as a cabinet minister.
Abraham paid Olmert $2.69 million for the home, while Abraham rented it out to him for $2,250 a month.
Lindenstrauss examined appraisals of the home made before and after the sale. Olmert's appraiser, Yosef Zaritzky, said the house was worth up to $2.85 million, while Abraham's appraiser, Yehoshua Avni, pegged it at $2.575m. Levana Eshed, who was hired by the State Comptroller's Office as an independent appraiser, said that the official sales price of $2.69m. was reasonable.
However, Eshed concluded that Olmert was only paying Abraham 60 percent of the market rent for such a home - $2,250 instead of $3,800. Still, she added, one must also consider the savings accruing to Abraham because, for example, he had an immediate tenant, meaning the house would not be vacant for even a day, and he did not have to pay for a real estate agent.
Zarnitzky, who had appraised the home before Olmert had sold it, told Lindenstrauss that given the building's physical condition, it could not have fetched more than $2,750 to $3,200 on the market.
Olmert sold the house on Rehov Kaf Tet B'November to Abraham on January 29, 2004 for $2.96m.. Over the years, Abraham, now 71, has taken a deep interest in Israel and contributed large sums of money to various educational and other human betterment programs. He has also contributed to various election campaigns, including NIS 193,000 in 1993, for Olmert's race for mayor of Jerusalem.
In a related matter, Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz said on Wednesday that he would await the results of the state comptroller's examination regarding new allegations against Olmert, raised Tuesday by Yoav Yitzhak, publisher of the Internet newspaper News First Class.
According to Yitzhak, Olmert received a bribe of $320,000 from a real estate agency when he bought his new home on Rehov Cremieux in Jerusalem's German Colony. The agency allegedly sold Olmert the house at cost price in October 2004.
Mazuz wrote that under the circumstances, and "given the nature of the allegations included in the report, the attorney-general believes there is no reason at this stage to begin a criminal investigation into the matter. It seems appropriate to wait for the end of the examination by the state comptroller."